David Warren examines Edward Said‘s Orientalism and the more recent Occidentalism by Ian Buruma“and Avishai Margalit in the April issue of Commentary. His critique of Said is devastating and he also finds the Buruma/Margalit volume unsatisfying, but the most interesting bit in the piece comes near the end, when he cites a recent book by Lee Harris, Civilization and Its Enemies. Harris’s book examines, in part, the thought of “the 14th-century Muslim historian ibn Khaldun, the inventor and perhaps greatest master of the disciple we now call sociology. Ibn Khaldun‘s Muqaddimah, or ‘Prolegomena’ to the study of history, was an unprecedented effort to comprehend the causes of the rise, persistence, and decline of human civilizations.”
Ibn Khaldun traced the fall of civilizations to forgetfulness: “As Harris exaplins, this could be defined as the ‘tendency of civilized men to take for granted the complex and peculiar historical conditions that permitted them to behave as civilized men.’ It is a collective amnesia, a forgetting of who we are, and of how we came to be, and therefore of what we must do to continue being.”
One is reminded, among many other things, of the insistent emphasis of the Torah on preserving memory ?Ethe exhortations to memory in Deuteronomy, the regular calendar of commemorative festivals, the demand that parents transmit Israel’s memories to their children.
posted by Peter J. Leithart on Sunday, April 4, 2004 at 11:04 pm
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